The trial for Paul and Ruben Flores resumed Thursday in Salinas with the conclusion of opening statements.
The two men are charged in connection with the disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart more than 26 years ago. Paul, 45, is charged with her murder. His father, Ruben, 81, is charged as an accessory after the fact and is accused of helping cover up the crime.
The prosecution and Paul's attorney, Robert Sanger, wrapped up their opening statements Monday.
The prosecution claims Paul Flores murdered Smart in his dorm room after the two walked back to campus from a party early in the morning of May 25, 1996.
Ruben Flores’ attorney, Harold Mesick, was originally scheduled to present his opening statements Tuesday but a “health issue” with someone involved in the trial postponed court until Thursday morning.
Opening statements for Ruben Flores
Mesick called this a tragic case for both the Smart family and his client, saying Ruben has suffered 26 years of torment and been “harassed, chased out of restaurants, insulted and assaulted.”
Mesick asked jurors to be skeptical of the prosecution's arguments and pieces of evidence, firing back at several arguments made by the prosecution.
He first brought up a confrontation between Kristin’s father, Stan Smart, and Ruben Flores at Ruben’s home. Mesick argued it was Smart who chose to go to his client's home.
Mesick then brought up a letter Denise Smart sent to her daughter on May 5, 1996. Prosecutors say the letter showed a strong mother-daughter relationship, but Mesick disagrees, calling the letter sarcastic.
Mesick then addressed an accusation that Ruben was unaccounted for during Memorial Day weekend in 1996 when Kristin went missing and offered a timeline of Ruben’s whereabouts during that time and also criticized the so-called treasure trove of Kristin Smart memorabilia the prosecution said was found in Ruben’s home, saying, in his eyes, it was mostly hate mail from the Smart family.
Mesick then told the court about Ruben’s time in the Navy and his work as a volunteer for the Pismo Beach Jazz Jubilee before wrapping up his closing argument by saying that at the end of the trial, “Kristin Smart will still be missing and we won’t know what happened.”
He asked jurors to be skeptical of the prosecution's arguments and evidence, saying the prosecution was trying to manipulate the jury.
Once opening statements wrapped up, the first witness was called to the stand.
Kristin’s mother, Denise, had a hard time holding back tears while reflecting on all the things Kristin missed after her disappearance. She could be seen taking a deep breath before saying, “Just breathe. Right.”
San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle went over two of Kristin’s high school graduation photos that were taken in 1995.
Denise described the summer leading up to Kristin attending Cal Poly, saying Kristin spent about two months in Hawaii as a counselor and lifeguard for a Christian camp.
A family photo taken in Hawaii in 1993 was then shown. Denise reacted by saying, “Good memories.”
While Kristin was at Cal Poly, Denise said they decided to call each other every Sunday.
Peuvrelle asked Denise about the last time she physically saw Kristin on Easter in 1996. Denise said Kristin was thrilled to see her family and shared that she didn't feel Cal Poly was a good fit for her.
Peuvrelle went on to ask about Kristin's relationship with her sister and brother. Denise said, “She was their biggest cheerleader."
Denise said Kristin told her siblings they would make it to the Olympics and then started crying on the stand after recalling how Kristin never got to see her siblings go to Olympic trials.
The next piece of evidence brought up by the prosecution was the letter written to Kristin by Denise in May of 1996 that the defense called sarcastic. Denise called it a “buckle up butter cup” letter, saying Kristin was having issues with a biology class, so she wanted to show her daughter her support as well as suggestions to not complain and take action to correct it.
Going through the letter, Denise held back tears saying, “What breaks my heart is that it's my last letter to her.”
Denise said their Sunday calls continued but told the court that the last time she heard from her daughter was on Friday, May 24, 1996, when Kristin left a voicemail saying she had good news.
Denise then described the endless efforts to find Kristin after being notified by Cal Poly police that her daughter was missing.
She expressed her frustration with getting help, saying she reached out to the San Luis Obispo Police Department, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office and even the FBI, but testified that no one assumed responsibility.
“The life of my daughter was of no value except for her family,” she testified.
Denise responded to a question from the prosecution, testifying that Kristin had no known debts or bad relationships.
Cross-examination of Denise Smart
During the cross-examination of Denise Smart, Paul’s attorney, Robert Sanger, apologized for some of the questions he said he had to ask.
He then jumped right in saying that not everything was “rosy” before Cal Poly.
Kristin's brief time in Napa when her father, Stan Smart, took a high school principal job was discussed.
Sanger then asked Denise if she knew that Kristin went by the nickname Roxy and Denise said yes.
He also asked if she knew about Kristin's modeling aspirations. Denise said no.
The defense insisted the Smart family sued the Flores’ for information but Denise said the lawsuit filed years ago was to request information.
Sanger brought up the letter Denise had written to Kristin and pointed out the part where Denise said Kristin lied hundreds of times and asked if one of those lies was allegedly flying to a different island in Hawaii during her camping trips.
Mesick then stepped in for cross-examination, continuing to question Denise about the same letter and pressing her about Kristin's alleged lies and complaints.
Ruben's defense also asked Denise about reported sightings of Kristin. She testified that she has received many tips from Las Vegas to Florida.
After a brief meeting between Judge O’Keefe and the council, Denise was excused as a witness but could be called to the stand again.
Matt Smart testifies
The second witness called to the stand by the prosecution was Stan and Denise’s son and Kristin’s brother, Matt Smart.
He talked about his family's close relationship, their trips before Kristin's disappearance and their many sports activities.
Tension began to fill the room during cross-examination when Mesick said he felt he had to drag answers out of Matt.
Stan Smart then took the stand.
Stan Smart testifies
Kristin’s father told the court about the three months he spent in San Luis Obispo County following Kristin’s disappearance.
He said he led searches to find his daughter or her remains, followed up on tips and interviewed people.
The prosecution questioned Stan about why he drove to Ruben Flores' home in Arroyo Grande shortly after Kristin went missing.
Stan said he did it after learning that Paul was the last person to be seen with his daughter and testified that he stayed in his car but said Ruben told him to leave because “someone could get shot.”
Thursday was the first time both sets of jurors were in the courtroom at the same time since the start of the trial.
Paul and Ruben are being tried at the same time, but have individual juries that will hand down separate verdicts.
There will be times both juries are seated inside the courtroom at the same time, rotating between one jury sitting in the jury box and the other in courtroom seating. Other times, if testimony or evidence being presented is only admissible for one defendant, the other jury will be removed from the courtroom.
The trial was moved out of San Luis Obispo County and is taking place in Salinas. It’s expected to last into at least October.
The judge has denied audio or video recordings of the trial and is only allowing still photography of select people.
If convicted, Paul faces a sentence of 25 years to life. Ruben faces up to three years in jail.